Rest in Peace Cardinal William H. Keeler, an impassioned pro-life leader

By Maria Gallagher, Legislative Director, Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation

Cardinal William F. Keeler and Michael Ciccocioppo, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation.

Cardinal William F. Keeler and Michael Ciccocioppo, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation.

His sermons were the stuff of legends.

By the time I had arrived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to begin my new life as Education Director for the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, Cardinal William H. Keeler had long before moved on to Baltimore, Maryland. But I watched his televised homilies with awe—especially one given at the 2005 Vigil Mass for the March for Life in Washington, D.C.

He noted that Americans had become aware of “the vast network of lies that have been spun and fortified to sustain the illusion that abortion is somehow a good, or at least a morally neutral procedure; that it is a standard part of health care and family planning; that it is a proper exercise of a woman’s freedom; that it is a solution to intractable social problems.”

He stated that it was not one of those things. “What it is, is an unfettered right to take an innocent, human life from the mother’s womb.”

Amen to that, and to so much more that made Cardinal Keeler a pro-life hero.

As The Catholic Review in Baltimore indicated in its in-depth obituary, the good Cardinal had a heart for the women who have lost children to the tragedy of abortion. He founded Project Rachel ministries to reach out to these women with love, compassion, and understanding, in the belief that they could find healing and hope.

The Catholic Review also pointed out, “He also supported the Gabriel Network, which provides assistance to women facing crisis pregnancies and their children, and served two terms as chairman of the bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities, most recently in 2003-06.

You can read the entire Catholic Review’s moving tribute here.

Back in November of 1999, Cardinal Keeler wrote an encouraging letter to national pro-life leader Father Frank Pavone. His words ring as true today as they did nearly 18 years ago:

“I wish to congratulate you for the leadership you give to Priests for Life and for the encouragement you give to our clergy around the United States in promoting efforts on behalf of the Culture of Life.

“May the Lord grant that there be continued close collaboration between Priests for Life and our NCCB Committee for Pro-Life Activities. The more we who are committed to the cause of life can act in concert, the more effective will our labors be.”

I am reminded of the Cardinal’s pro-life advocacy every time I step into the impressive building in the greater Harrisburg area which bears his name. For those who grew up in Pennsylvania and who knew Cardinal Keeler personally, the connection runs even deeper.

“When I was a boy our family was very active at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Marysville, PA, when Father Keeler served there in the 1950’s and ’60’s,” said Michael Ciccocioppo, Executive Director and CEO of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation.

“As an altar boy, I spent a lot of time with him behind the scenes and I can tell you that he treated young people with the utmost respect and always expressed his gratitude for our service. As an adult, we kept in contact over the years. I especially remember being at the 2005 Vigil Mass …. I still believe it was the best pro-life homily I have ever heard.”

That is quite an endorsement, coming from a man who has led the pro-life movement in Pennsylvania for 15 years. But such was the impact of Cardinal Keeler, whose beatific smile expressed the love for people that reigned in his heart.

America has lost an impassioned pro-life leader—a true advocate for women and children. Still, his work for a life-affirming society continues on…through the many people who have been inspired by his words and whose lives have been touched by his generosity, his kindness, and his selfless love.

Requiescat in Pace, our dear pro-life friend.